death penalty news----TEXAS, KY., PENN., OKLA., VA., USA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Nov 19 09:30:12 CST 2004
Supreme Court right about Texas death penalty
Gov. Rick Perry should call a moratorium on the death penalty. It needs a
lot of work.
The U.S. Supreme Court this week criticized the Texas judicial system for
failing to ensure that a citizen was given a fair trial. Thats a serious
judgment in a capital case.
But theres little evidence state leaders are taking the constructive
criticism seriously. This is the 3rd blistering critique from the nations
highest court in the past year.
The Texas judicial system handled 37 % of the death sentences in this
country last year. And its not very good at it.
The Supreme Court has complained repeatedly that the state doesnt have a
coherent policy about executing people who were under 18 when they
committed their crimes.
Its complained that it doesnt take into account mental retardation in
The Supreme Court has asked pointed questions about whether the state
allows racial bias to play a role in deciding who gets sentenced to death.
And, of course, Texas has had notorious problems with some of its crime
labs. You have to wonder about the evidence that came from those labs.
Far too often in Texas, the question of who lives or dies has more to do
with money than with justice. Those who can afford to pay for a
spectacular defense that stupefies jurors often get what they pay for.
Poor defendants who cant afford a decent defense often get what they pay
Many people face life and death situations every day. Soldiers train with
live ammunition. Surgeons hold hearts in their hands.
But these people are very, very serious. And they work under a system that
is as good as it can be.
You cant say that about the way the Texas judicial system handles capital
cases. No ones been able to say that for a long time.
(source: The (Galveston) Daily News)
Supremes: What'd We Say?
Evidence of death-row inmate LaRoyce Smith's low IQ wasn't sufficiently
considered by Texas courts, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week.
In a 7-2 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 15 overturned the death
sentence of Texas row inmate LaRoyce Lathair Smith, who had been sentenced
to die for the 1991 murder of a Dallas Taco Bell employee. At issue was
whether Smith's jury had the opportunity to consider Smith's low IQ (among
several other matters) as mitigating evidence when deciding Smith's
In the opinion, the court cited their previous decisions in two other
Texas death cases - those of John Paul Penry and Robert Tennard (whose
case was decided this summer) - in which the court variously determined
that Texas' death scheme shunted a jury's ability to give full
consideration to mitigating circumstances that could result in a defendant
getting a life sentence instead of death. The Texas Court of Criminal
Appeals and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals each denied Smith's
appeal (the CCA's denial came shortly before the high court's June ruling
in the Tennard case), ruling that Smith had failed to demonstrate that his
"criminal act was attributable" to a "uniquely severe permanent handicap."
In the opinion handed down Monday, the Supremes again rejected that
standard: "Our rejection of that threshold test was central to our
decision to reverse in Tennard ," the court wrote. None of their earlier
opinions "screened mitigating evidence" for the "constitutional relevance"
suggested by the 2 lower courts, the court wrote. "Rather, we held that
the jury must be given an effective vehicle with which to weigh mitigating
evidence so long as the defendant has met a 'low threshold for relevance,'
which is satisfied by 'evidence which tends logically to prove or disprove
some fact or circumstance which a fact-finder could reasonably deem to
have mitigating value," the court wrote. "The Texas [CCA] relied on
precisely the same 'screening test' we held constitutionally inadequate in
[the] Tennard [case]."
Chief Justice William Rehnquist joined the court in overturning Smith's
sentence, although he did not join the Tennard majority earlier this year.
In a 1-sentence dissent, Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas
disagreed with the court on Smith , writing that they would've affirmed
the CCA's ruling.
Nationwide, the number of U.S. inmates sentenced to death last year hit a
30-year low, according to statistics released by the U.S. Department of
Justice on Nov. 14. Last year, 144 inmates were sentenced to death, the
lowest number since 1973. Also last year, 267 inmates had their death
sentences overturned or vacated - the largest number since the
reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. Former Illinois Gov. George
Ryan's commutation of 155 death sentences and granting of four pardons
accounted for 60% of the reversals. Although the number of executions in
Texas has declined from the heyday of George W. Bush, the state was
nonetheless able to retain the top spot on the national death list by
sending 24 inmates to the death chamber last year - Oklahoma, with 14
executions, secured 2nd place.
(source: Austin Chronicle)
Death penalty, medical ethics collide in Kentucky
When Governor Ernie Fletcher signed a death warrant for a convicted killer
this month, he may have done more than start the clock ticking on an
execution. Some say Fletcher, a doctor, may have put his medical license
American Medical Association guidelines bar doctors from taking part,
directly or indirectly, in executions. And Kentucky requires doctors to
follow AMA ethical guidelines.
"I think it's a clear violation," said Dr. Arthur Zitrin, an 86-year-old
retired psychiatrist in New York and an outspoken death-penalty opponent.
Zitrin is also challenging the license of a Georgia doctor accused of
helping nurses find a vein in a condemned man for a lethal injection.
A group of doctors is seeking an opinion from the Kentucky Board of
Medical Licensure on whether Fletcher can sign death warrants without
running the risk of having his medical license revoked. The board is not
scheduled to take up the matter until at least January, and would not
comment in the meantime.
On Nov. 8, Fletcher signed a death warrant for Thomas Clyde Bowling, 51,
convicted of shooting to death the husband-and-wife owners of a dry
cleaning business in 1990. Bowling is set to die by lethal injection Nov.
Fletcher's executive counsel, John Roach, said the Republican governor did
not violate AMA guidelines or other ethical standards.
By signing a death warrant, in no way is Governor Ernie Fletcher
participating in the conduct of an execution," Roach said. "Governor
Fletcher's role under the law is consistent with the roles of judges
fulfilling their legal duty and jurors fulfilling their legal obligations
regardless of their professions."
The AMA guidelines forbid doctors to actively take part in an execution or
to take any "action which would directly cause the death of the condemned"
or "which would assist, supervise or contribute" to the death of the
In a statement, Dr. Michael Goldrich, chairman of the AMA Council on
Ethical and Judicial Affairs, stopped short of saying whether the governor
violated the guidelines.
Goldrich said the code prohibits any role by a doctor, passive or active,
in an execution. But he also said the code "does not speak to individuals
with a medical degree who no longer maintain any involvement with medicine
and are engaged in activities that are outside the sphere of the medical
Fletcher, 52, earned his medical degree at the University of Kentucky and
was a family practitioner until he was elected to Congress in 1998.
He was elected governor last year and is still licensed as a physician in
The Federation of State Medical Boards said it has no information on any
doctors who may have been disciplined for taking part in an execution. Not
all states incorporate AMA guidelines into state law. For example, it
would not be illegal in California for a physician to participate in an
execution, according to Candis Cohen, spokeswoman for the Medical Board of
According to the National Governors Association, there have been 3 other
doctors who have been US governors since the AMA guidelines took effect in
1980. But none was in the position of having to decide whether to sign a
Dr. Otis Ray Bowen of Indiana left office in 1981 without signing a death
warrant. Vermont, where Dr. Howard Dean spent 12 years as governor, has no
death penalty. Dr. John Kitzhaber was governor during 2 executions in
Oregon before leaving office in 2003. But the Oregon governor does not
sign an execution warrant -- a judge does. Kitzhaber could have granted
clemency to the condemned but chose not to.
Senate majority leader Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee, was a heart
surgeon before being elected to the Senate.
State Representative Jim Wayne, a Democrat, said of the governor: "It's
curious he will keep his no-new-taxes pledge but will violate his
Hippocratic oath. I'm not sure how he sleeps at night with this kind of
(source: Associated Press)
Supreme Court sets hearing in Bowling execution case
The Kentucky Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday on
whether to delay the Nov. 30 execution of Thomas Clyde Bowling so it can
be determined whether he is mentally retarded.
Bowling's lawyers have argued that he is mildly retarded and thus must be
spared under a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that bans execution of
mentally retarded people.
He was sentenced to death in 1991 for killing a Lexington couple.
Susan J. Balliet, a lawyer for Bowling, said yesterday that she and other
lawyers working to save his life were grateful for yesterday's Supreme
Court order granting the hearing. "We're hopeful," she said. "We are
encouraged that they are obviously taking this very seriously."
Fayette Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson, who prosecuted Bowling, has
disputed their claims and said evidence shows that Bowling's IQ is above
the level of someone considered retarded.
Larson could not be reached yesterday. He previously called the claim of
mental retardation "a last desperate act" by Bowling's lawyers.
Bowling, 51, was convicted in 1990 of fatally shooting Edward Earley, 25,
and his wife, Tina, 22, as they arrived to open a family dry-cleaning
business in Lexington.
Balliet said yesterday that evidence shows that Bowling, a 9th-grade
dropout, has a low IQ and poor thinking and reasoning skills.
She said lawyers want the court to appoint and pay an expert to evaluate
His lawyers also are appealing on several other fronts.
They have asked a Franklin circuit judge to strike down lethal injection -
the means of execution in Kentucky - as unconstitutional.
They also are persisting in efforts to obtain evidence they say was
withheld from them by Lexington authorities.
A Fayette circuit judge ruled against them, and Bowling's lawyers have
appealed to the Supreme Court.
Those cases are pending.
Bowling's lawyers also have been seeking to interview jurors in his 1990
trial to determine whether any juror was unwilling to consider possible
mitigating evidence of Bowling's mental impairment.
The state Supreme Court yesterday denied that request.
Killer of 2 in Phila. could avoid death row
A death-row inmate convicted of shooting 2 people to death - including a
promising rap artist - outside a Philadelphia nightclub will get a new
chance to avoid execution because a prosecutor told jurors he had
assaulted someone in prison.
The state Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered a new sentencing hearing for
Lawrence Smith of Trenton, but upheld his first-degree murder convictions
for a pair of killings in 2000 at Evolution, an after-hours Delaware
Avenue nightclub. The slayings were committed during separate robberies a
couple of months apart.
Smith, 24, was convicted in the April 2000 shooting of Raeneil "Q-Don"
Quann, 22, a member of the Philadelphia rap group NAAM Brigade.
Two months earlier, Smith shot and killed Songha T. Willis, 27, of New
York, after a robbery outside the nightclub, police said.
"They were cold-blooded killings in which the defendant executed people
after robbing them," Philadelphia Deputy District Attorney Ronald
Eisenberg said yesterday.
A jury found Smith guilty of two counts of first-degree murder, attempted
murder, robbery, conspiracy and possessing instruments of crime. The only
penalties for 1st-degree murder in Pennsylvania are the death penalty or
life in prison without parole.
The Supreme Court said the problem arose during the sentencing phase, when
a prosecutor referred to the alleged prison assault to rebut a defense
psychiatric expert's contention that Smith presented no danger to other
inmates. The justices said testimony about the assault by a prosecution
witness, John O'Brien, was flawed.
"There is no indication that Dr. O'Brien was present at, or somehow
participated in, the alleged adjudication of [Smith] on the charge of
assaulting a prisoner," wrote Chief Justice Ralph J. Cappy in a unanimous
Smith's lawyer, Gary S. Server, said Smith was never charged criminally
for the alleged assault. The prosecution's reference to the assault
constituted false evidence that was "very harmful" in efforts to defend
against the death penalty, Server said.
(source: Associated Press)
Elwood Jackson Sentencing
A man convicted of killing 3 Lawton casino workers in February of last
year is set to die February 10th, 2 years to the day of the murders. Last
month, a jury found 44-year-old Elwood Jackson guilty on 3 counts of 1st
degree murder. The jury deliberated for less than 20 minutes before
returning with the verdict. Then Jackson was sentenced to die by lethal
injection. Today he found out just when that will be. However, Schulte
also says that because of automatic appeals it is highly unlikely that
Jackson`s injection will be on that date. (source: KFDX News)
Lentz to take case to Supreme Court----Defense lawyers hope justices will
reinstate an earlier acquittal
Lawyers for a former naval intelligence officer facing a 2nd kidnapping
and murder trial for the death of his ex-wife will ask the U.S. Supreme
Court to reinstate an earlier acquittal.
Jay Lentz, 45, who has been jailed since his April 2001 arrest, was back
in court for the 1st time since the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in
Richmond ordered a new trial.
The case has taken an unusual number of twists and turns, including
accusations by a federal judge that a prosecutor planted inadmissible
evidence in the jury room in Alexandria, an allegation later repudiated by
the appeals court.
Last year, after 6 days of deliberations, a jury convicted Lentz for the
1996 kidnapping and killing of Doris Lentz, who lived in Arlington County.
Doris Lentz's body was never found, but her blood-soaked car was
discovered in the District of Columbia shortly after her disappearance. At
the time, Jay Lentz lived in Prince George's County, Md.
Prosecutors sought the death penalty, but the jury elected to impose only
life in prison, and seven jurors indicated that residual doubt about
Lentz's guilt was a factor in the decision against the death penalty.
Shortly after the jury's verdict, U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee
overturned the jury's verdict and ordered an acquittal. He said
prosecutors had failed to prove Doris Lentz had been kidnapped, which was
necessary to bring the case in federal court.
Then, defense lawyers learned that the jurors had seen two of Doris
Lentz's diaries that the judge had ruled inadmissible. Several jurors said
the diary entries were crucial in their guilty verdict.
Lee ordered a hearing to discover who was responsible for the evidence,
and he eventually accused lead prosecutor Steven Mellin of planting the
The appeals court stepped in this summer to sort things out. It ruled that
Lee's accusation against Mellin was unfounded and prohibited Lee from
presiding over the retrial because of possible prejudice against the
It also ruled in a split decision that Lee was incorrect to order an
acquittal on the kidnapping statute. But it agreed with Lee that the
planted evidence warranted a mistrial and new trial.
Yesterday, Lentz's lawyer, Frank Salvato, said he will appeal to the
Supreme Court to reinstate the acquittal based on the requirements of the
Salvato is also asking that the trial be moved to Richmond because of
publicity the case has received in Northern Virginia.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III set a tentative trial date of Jan. 31,
but that may be delayed. Defense lawyers said they hope to resolve their
petition to the Supreme Court before starting a new trial.
Salvato said after the hearing that he is optimistic the Supreme Court
will agree to hear the case.
(source: Associated Press)
Don't stoop to murderer's level with death penalty
On Nov. 12, Scott Peterson was found guilty of the murder of his pregnant
wife and their unborn child. Now, the 32-year-old former fertilizer
salesman could face the death penalty.
As a 15-year-old who highly values family, I was a little disturbed that
he could murder a pregnant woman, particularly a woman he once loved. Our
entire nation was appalled, in fact, and millions have been following the
case since Laci Peterson disappeared 23 months ago.
It's obvious he doesn't deserve a light punishment, and despite his
possible attempt at appeal the evidence is against him. The jury's
decision wasn't wrong, but his execution would be very wrong indeed.
Right now, our country is in a post-9/11 era of violence and struggle.
Even teenagers like me have trouble escaping the violent images of death.
We see pictures of a war that plagues our country and the world. We hear
about murders and suicides every day. Taser-toting police officers stun a
12-year-old girl with 50,000 volts because she runs away to "play hooky."
It can be argued that the death penalty is a strong deterrent to crime,
that it makes society less violent, that we are all safer by electrocuting
and poisoning those who commit the worst crimes.
This theory offers nothing for mercy and repentance for those who commit
horrific crimes of passion but will never kill again. It doesn't
acknowledge the fact that the extra death just adds to the drama of cable
news coverage and the video games that already put a cheap price on human
life. The death penalty just acts as a catalyst for more violence and
brews hatred in the hearts of our citizens.
A life sentence gives them the chance to change, realize what they did
wrong and slowly come to their senses. In some cases, having to go through
the pain of isolated imprisonment is more of a just punishment than death.
Another argument made against the death penalty involves the well-known
question: "What if it was someone you loved who had been killed?" I deeply
respect the opinions of those who have been affected by the Peterson
tragedy, particularly Laci Peterson's family and friends.
But I must also ask: What about Scott's family? First, his parents grieve
that their daughter-in-law was missing and eventually found dead. Then
they grieve at the possibility that their son was the murderer. They must
face months of investigation, uncertainty and trial, their son's face all
over the news, the nights wondering what they did wrong in raising him and
why their son decided to kill.
When Scott's mom exited the courthouse after the verdict, she was booed by
someone in the crowd. Now, they face the death of not only their
daughter-in-law and grandchild, but also the possible death of their son.
So I pose this question: "What if it was someone you loved that had been
It is a difficult decision for any jury, whether to put someone to death
or let them keep their life. If they are Christians, I hope they pick up
their Bible and read where Jesus said, "Blessed are the merciful, for they
shall obtain mercy."
If they are not Christian, I hope they are inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's
words, "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind."
In this time of great violence, we need not stoop to the murderer's level.
We instead must be the better persons by being merciful when we have the
power to take revenge. It's time for a change in our country's outlook on
the death penalty.
Scott Peterson's life should be spared.
(source: Tallahassee Democrat)
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